When he was 15, Jim ran drugs for a cult group. When I first heard his story, I was shocked – not just that the group was running drugs, but that they had directed one of their youngest recruits to do the dirty work for them. Then I learned why it made sense in a technical sort of way: the cult leaders reasoned that the older members, if caught, would face serious sentences and lifetime records, whereas the kids could get away with an unpleasant but not life-altering juvenile detention. It was a matter of using kids to do what the grown-ups didn't want to risk doing themselves.

In a tactical sense, religious fundamentalists in America appear to have taken a page from the same book. The constitution and the law prohibits adults from, say, establishing ministries within public schools aimed at proselytizing to the children during school hours. But a growing number of religious activists have come to realize that it's technically legal if they get the kids to do their work for them. OK, so religious proselytizing is not the same thing as running drugs – but manipulating kids to exploit legal loopholes isn't pretty wherever it happens.

This tactic has been tested and deployed in a great number of situations already in schools across the country. Right now, a large group of fundamentalist organizations and church denominations is making a big bet that they will be able to pull it off on a national scale, starting in 2013.